Teatro del Liceo de Montesión (1837–1847)
Gran Teatre del Liceu
Location within Barcelona
|Address||La Rambla, 51–59|
Ciutat Vella, Barcelona
|Capacity||2,292 seats on 6 levels|
|Production||Fundació del Gran Teatre del Liceu|
|Opened||1847 (founded 1837 in another place)|
|Rebuilt||1862, 1999 (after fires in 1861 and 1994)|
|Architect||Miquel Garriga i Roca (1847), Josep Oriol Mestres (1862), Ignasi de Solà-Morales (1999)|
The Gran Teatre del Liceu (Catalan pronunciation: [ˈɡɾan teˈatɾə ðəl liˈsɛw], English: Great Theatre of the Lyceum), or Liceu in Catalan, is an opera house on La Rambla in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. The Liceu opened on 4 April 1847. The adjacent Liceu metro station is named after the theatre.
In 1837, the Liceo Filodramático de Montesión (Philodramatic Lyceum of Montesión, now named Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu) was founded in Barcelona to promote musical education (hence the name "Liceo", or lyceum) and organize scenic representations of opera performed by Liceo students.
A theatre was built in the convent building — named Teatro de Montesión or Teatro del Liceo de Montesión — and plays and operas were performed: the first was Vicenzo Bellini's Norma (3 February 1838). The repertoire was Italian, the most performed composers being Donizetti and Mercadante as well as Bellini and Rossini. The Barcelona premiere of Hérold's Zampa was held here.
In 1838, the society changed its name to Liceo Dramático Filarmónico de S. M. la Reina Isabel II (Dramatic Philharmonic Lyceum of H.M. Queen Isabel II). Lack of space, as well as pressures brought to bear by a group of nuns (who were the former proprietors of the convent and had recovered rights to return), motivated the Liceu to leave its headquarters in 1844. The last theatre performance was on 8 September.
The Trinitarian convent building located in the centre of the town at la Rambla was purchased. The managers of the Liceu entrusted Joaquim de Gispert d'Anglí with a project to make the construction of the new building viable. Two different societies were created: a "building society" and an "auxiliary building society". Shareholders of the building society obtained the right of use in perpetuity of some theatre boxes and seats in exchange for their economic contributions. Those of the second society contributed the rest of the money necessary in exchange for property of other spaces in the building including some shops and a private club called the Círculo del Liceo.
In contrast with many other European cities, where the monarchy took on the responsibility of the building and upkeep of opera houses, the Liceu was funded by private shareholders of what would become the Societat del Gran Teatre del Liceu (Great Liceu Theatre Society), organized similarly to a trading company or societat. This is reflected in the building's architecture; for example, there exists no royal box. The Queen did not contribute to the construction, so the name of the society was changed to Liceo Filarmónico Dramático, removing the Queen's name from it.
Miquel Garriga i Roca was the architect contracted; the construction began on 11 April 1845. The theatre was inaugurated on 4 April 1847.
The inauguration presented a mixed program including the premieres of José Melchior Gomis' musical ouverture, a historical play Don Fernando de Antequera by Ventura de la Vega, the ballet La rondeña (The girl from Ronda) by Josep Jurch, and a cantata Il regio himene with music by the musical director of the theatre Marià Obiols. The first complete opera, Donizetti's Anna Bolena was presented on 17 April. At this point, Liceu was the biggest opera house in Europe with 3,500 seats. Other operas performed in the Liceu during the first year were (in chronological order): I due Foscari (Verdi), Il bravo (Mercadante), Parisina d'Este (Donizetti), Giovanna d'Arco (Verdi), Leonora (Mercadante), Ernani (Verdi), Norma (Bellini), Linda di Chamounix (Donizetti) and Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini).
The building was severely damaged by fire on 9 April 1861, but it was rebuilt by the architect Josep Oriol Mestres and re-opened on 20 April 1862, performing Bellini's I puritani. From the old building, only the facade, the entrance hall and the foyer (Mirrors Hall) remained.
On 7 November 1893, on the opening night of the season and during the second act of the opera Guillaume Tell by Rossini, two Orsini bombs were thrown into the stalls of the opera house. Only one of the bombs exploded; some twenty people were killed and many more were injured. The attack executed anarchist Santiago Salvador and it deeply shocked Barcelona, becoming a symbol of the turbulent social unrest of the time. The Liceu re-opened its doors on 18 January 1894, but the seats occupied by those killed were not used for a number of years. The second bomb was put in the Van Gogh Museum in 2007 during an exhibit on Barcelona around 1900.
In 1909, the auditorium ornamentation was renewed. Spanish neutrality during World War I allowed the Catalan textile industry to amass enormous wealth through supplying the warring parties. The 1920s were prosperous years and the Liceu became fully established as a leading opera house welcoming better singers, the orchestra leaders of the time and companies such as Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes.
When the Second Spanish Republic was proclaimed in 1931, political instability meant that the Liceu suffered a severe financial crisis which was only overcome through subsidies from Barcelona City Council and the government of Catalonia. During the Spanish Civil War, the Liceu was nationalized and took the name the Teatre del Liceu – Teatre Nacional de Catalunya (Liceu Opera House – the National Theatre of Catalonia). The opera seasons were suspended. After the war, it was returned to its original owners in 1939.
From 1940 to the 1960s, the seasons were high-quality ones. 1955, thanks to the creation of a special board, saw a historic event when for the first time since its foundation, the Bayreuth Festival was staged away from its normal venue. Performances of Parsifal, Tristan und Isolde and Die Walküre with innovative stage sets by Wieland Wagner were enthusiastically received.
In the 1970s, an economic crisis affected the theatre and the privately based organisation could not afford the increasing budgets of modern opera productions and general quality declined.
The death of Joan Antoni Pàmiasin 1980 revealed the need for the intervention of the official bodies if the institution was to remain a leading opera house. In 1981, the Generalitat de Catalunya, with Barcelona's City Council and the Societat del Gran Teatre del Liceu, created the Consorci del Gran Teatre del Liceu (Consortium of the Great Liceu Theater) responsible for the theatre's management.
The Deputation of Barcelona and the Spanish Ministry of Culture joined the Consortium in 1985 and 1986 respectively. The Consortium managed to quickly attract the public back to the Liceu owing to a considerable improvement in its artistic standard. This included a more complete and up-to-date perspective of the very nature of an opera performance, a great improvement in the choir and orchestra, careful casting, and attracting the interest of the public to other aspects of productions besides the leading roles alone. This approach, coupled with the new economic support and a more demanding and discerning public, resulted in a high standard of productions.
The seasons organised by the Consortium maintained high standards in casting, production and public loyalty, as measured by public attendance, but all this came to a halt with a fire on 31 January 1994. The building was destroyed by a fire caused by a spark that accidentally fell on the curtain during a routine repair. At this time, Paul Hindemith's Mathis der Maler was performing at the theatre and the following opera to be performed was Puccini's Turandot.
Public and institutional response was unanimous on the need to rebuild a new opera house on the same site with improved facilities. The new Liceu is the result of a series of actions to preserve those parts of the building unaffected by the fire, the same ones as had survived the fire in 1861. The auditorium was rebuilt with the same layout, except for the roof paintings which were replaced with new art works by Perejaume, and state-of-the-art stage technology.
To rebuild and improve the theatre, it became public. The Fundació del Gran Teatre del Liceu (Liceu Great Theater Foundation) was created and the Societat del Gran Teatre del Liceu handed over the ownership of the building to the Foundation. Some owners disagreed with the decision, which was challenged unsuccessfully in court.
From 1994 until the reopening in 1999, the opera seasons in Barcelona took place in: Palau Sant Jordi arena (only some massive performances in 1994), Palau de la Música Catalana and Teatre Victòria. The rebuilt, improved and expanded theatre opened on 7 October 1999, with Puccini's Turandot as previewed in 1994 before the fire. The new venue had the same traditional horseshoe-shaped auditorium as before but with greatly improved technical, rehearsal, office and educational facilities, a new rehearsal hall, a new chamber opera and small performances' hall, and much more public space. Architects for the rebuilding project were Ignasi de Solà-Morales and Xavier Fabré i Lluís Dilmé.
Surtitles, projected onto a screen above the proscenium, are used for all opera performances and some lieder concerts. The electronic libretto system provides translations (to English, Spanish or Catalan) onto small individual monitors for most of the seats.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the opera house marked Spain's lifting of regulations by playing for an audience of 2,292 plants. The event was livestreamed on social media. Each plant was then donated to healthcare workers at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona.
The theatre is in la Rambla, in downtown Barcelona. The building has only two facades as the other two sides were limited, until 1994, by dwelling buildings.
Some parts of the first building remain:
The auditorium was rebuilt after the 1994 fire; it is a faithful recreation of the 1861 auditorium, with some improvements[clarification needed]. It has a seat capacity of 2,292, making it one of the largest opera houses in Europe. It is a typical Italian horseshoe-shaped theatre. Maximum length and width are 33 and 27 m. There is a platea (main floor) and five tiers (or balconies). Boxes, with small rooms attached, are in the fore stage, in the platea and in some galleries. There is no significant physical divisions among boxes: only a low screen separates one box from another. No columns are in the theatre apart from inside the platea giving the appearance of the galleries of a golden horseshoe without visual interruptions. Another peculiarity is in the first gallery where the amfiteatre ubicare is located. This is a projecting part of this gallery, with a less pronounced horseshoe shape, that allows three ranks of seats to be located there and are considered the best in the theatre.
Building expenses were covered by the sale of boxes and seats. Boxes were lavishly decorated by their owners but they disappeared in the 1994 fire. Upper balconies (4th and 5th tiers) are the cheapest seats and are called the galliner (literally "henroost").
The fore stage, or proscenium, reproduces the old one which was rebuilt in 1909. It has a big central arch with two Corinthian columns on both sides and, among the columns, four tiers of boxes parapets with the wider and more luxurious boxes in the theatre being called banyeres (literally "bathtubs").
The auditorium ornamentation reproduces that of 1909: sumptuous with golden and poly chromed plaster moldings, as usual in 19th-century European theatres. Lamps are of brass and glass in the shape of a drake. Armchairs on the main floor are made of strained iron and red velvet.
In the rebuilding some modern features were introduced. The eight circular paintings in the roof, and the three in the fore stage, were all lost in the fire and have been re-created by contemporary artist Perejaume. The stage curtain is a work of the Catalan designer Antoni Miró. The new hemispheric lamp in the center of the roof is a platform for technological facilities (lighting, sound and computer).
Other technological facilities are control and projecting cabins in some balconies, a "technical floor" over the roof, and high-tech equipment to record and broadcast performances. With computerized cameras, the auditorium could also be used as a television set. Stage facilities are among the most modern and allow quick scene changes and to perform four different sets simultaneously.
A new foyer has been built under the main auditorium. It is a room where the main bar and the restaurant are located and is also used to stage concerts, small format performances, lectures, cultural activities, and meetings etc.
At present, the Liceu is both a receiving and producing house, with two or three new productions staged each year. The Liceu company consists of a permanent orchestra and choir and some singers for the supporting roles. Leading roles are usually sung by guest singers. Stagecraft is in part produced internally by the theatre (alone or together with other opera houses) and also rented from other external houses. Until the 1990s, Liceu had its ballet company which was at its best in the 1920–1930s under Joan Magriñà.
Most of the performed operas were from the Italian and German schools of the 19th century: Verdi, Wagner, Belcanto authors and in more recent times Puccini, Richard Strauss and Mozart are included.
The history of Liceu premieres is a good instance of the evolution of European opera tastes. At first opera was only a part of the artistic activities and opera alternated with other forms of performance such zarzuela (Spanish light opera), classical dance (Giselle was given its first Barcelona performance in 1847), theatrical performances, magic shows and numerous activities which today might appear more appropriate for a variety concert or a music hall.
The first performed operas, Donizetti's Anna Bolena and Verdi's I due Foscari, are symptomatic of the taste for belcanto and Italian romantic melodrama: Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini, and Verdi etc. They are still in the repertory, and Verdi is by far the most performed composer.
The first operas by non-Italian composers which were put on in the Liceu were Ferdinand Hérold's Zampa (1848), Carl Maria von Weber's Der Freischütz (1849), Giacomo Meyerbeer's Robert le diable, Auber's La muette de Portici (1852) and Fra Diavolo (1853). These were sung in Italian as was the custom of the time.
The first performances of Il trovatore (1854) and La traviata (1855) led to the crowning of Giuseppe Verdi as the king of opera. In 1866 Mozart was staged at the Liceu for the first time with Don Giovanni.
1883 is a landmark when Wagner's Lohengrin is first performed. From there, and especially from the 1880s to 1950s, Wagner become one of the most beloved and highly regarded composers at Liceu. The theatre had the first staged performance of Parsifal outside Bayreuth on December 31, 1913, after the Bayreuth monopoly ended (although performance started 30 minutes before the deadline of 00:00 on January 1, 1914) with Francesc Viñas in the title role and conducted by Franz Beidler. In 1955, the Bayreuth Festival company visited the theatre and performed three operas.
Verismo, especially Puccini, is an esteemed school from the end of 19th century. The first Russian opera was given in 1915 with a great success; Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky being often performed. The first years of the 20th century saw Richard Strauss conducting his works. In 1904, Siegfried Wagner conducted a concert and a year afterwards Pietro Mascagni conducted a work.
In 1915, impresario Mestres Calvet broadened the repertory and introduced composers such as Mozart, Richard Strauss, de Falla, Stravinsky, etc. It was a golden age for Russian and German operas which were now sung in their original language. Mestres also was closely associated with the success commencing in 1917 with the ballets of Diaghilev, with Nijinsky, Massine, Lopokova, Chernicheva and other great figures. Years later another famous dancer, Anna Pavlova, was also to perform here.
In 1947, the directing company changed and came into the hands of Arquer and Pàmias. In contrast with the preceding years, which had been marked by the almost exclusive programming of the great repertory works, the first season of the new directorship saw a special renewal of the repertoire featuring the first performances in Barcelona of some 100 works by numerous composers. Various revivals featured Donizetti's Anna Bolena, which had first been staged in the Liceu one hundred years earlier. For 33 years, Pàmias was the leading figure of the Liceu's activity during a period when it seemed that it would be impossible to maintain the opera house without any official aid.
From the 1950s to the present, the repertory has largely comprised the most performed titles in the world, including practically all the great 20th-century composers: Bartók, Honegger, Gershwin, Berg, Janáček, Weill, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Britten, Schönberg, Hindemith, etc., along with Baroque and classical composers Monteverdi, Handel and Gluck.
Ballet seasons are an important part of the theatre's activities with some of the best known companies in the world performing, including Diaghilev and Béjart.
The adjacent Liceu metro station is named after the theatre.
Most performed operas in the history of Liceu are (in January 2009):
As a prominent theatre the Liceu has been the location for the premieres of several works of theatre and music, and for the Spanish premieres of many musical works. Among these premieres are:
The Liceu has also been the location for the Spanish premieres of prominent operas. Among them are:
The theatre is managed by a general director or intendant (empresari or administrador). From 1980 there is also an artistic director (director artistic).
The theatre has had its own orchestra from its foundation in 1847, the Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu. It is the oldest still working orchestra in Spain. Its first conductor was Marià Obiols.
Orchestra music directors and chief conductors:
The current music director of the company is Josep Pons, since 2012. In November 2017, the Liceu announced the extension of Pons' contract through the 2021–2022 season.
The choir was consolidated during the 1960s by its conductor Riccardo Bottino (1960–1982). From 1982 the choir conductors were Romano Gandolfi(1982–1993), with Vittorio Sicuri (1982–1990), and Andrés Máspero (from 1990). The present choir conductor is William Spaulding.
During the second half of the 19th century, a school of stagecraft and theatrical scenery was developed at the Liceu. After the beginnings with Joan Ballester, well known for his setting for L'Africaine, the leading scenographer was Francesc Soler i Rovirosa, working in the 1880–1900s. The style was very realistic using painted paper flats and curtains. Settings and costumes were made in the theatre workshops. From the 1900s to 1930s the school is represented by scenic painters including Maurici Vilomara, Fèlix Urgellés, Salvador Alarma and Oleguer Junyent. The last of these painters was Josep Mestres Cabanes who painted sceneries in the 1930–1950s.
Many famous singers have sung at the Liceu. Composer Camille Saint-Saëns, when visiting the Liceu, once said: "Ils aiment trop the ténor" (They [the Liceu public] love tenors too much). In brackets are the dates of the house debuts and final/most recent performances of prominent singers who have appeared at the Liceu:
Linked to the theatre is the Conservatori Superior de Música del Liceu, a music college founded in 1837 which is part of the same corporation.
The Círculo del Liceo is an exclusive private club located in the Liceu building. The Círculo opened in November 1847, a few months after the Liceu opera house, with 125 founding members, according to its earliest records. The club's facilities include numerous elegant lounges, conference rooms, a restaurant, a library and other services.
For the society's first 150 years, only men were permitted to become members; women were allowed access solely as guests of male society members. In 2001, following public controversy over the club's exclusively male membership, the club's constitution was amended and ten women (including renowned soprano Montserrat Caballé and several family members of existing members) were permitted to apply for membership for the first time. All ten women were initially turned down, then later admitted after a subsequent vote by members, with a final vote of 373 votes in favor and 279 against their admission. At present, the society has around one thousand members.
The Círculo del Liceo is the oldest club in Spain which retains its original location. The club's long history has enabled it to accumulate a unique heritage of artistic works. Many of its rooms are decorated in an Art Nouveau style. Four large windows in the low foyer serve as a testimony to the influence of Wagnerism in Catalan culture at the beginning of the 20th century.
In addition to the furniture and decor, the club retains a collection of sculptures, marquetry, enamels, engravings, etchings and paintings by Catalan artists: Alexandre de Riquer, Santiago Rusiñol, Modest Urgell Inglada and Francesc Miralles, among others. The most notable work belonging to the club is a set of twelve oils on fabric, commissioned to Ramon Casas and installed in the rotunda of the club. Each of the twelve paintings, Casas' most ambitious work, is inspired by a musical topic.